GIS on a Continuum

Posted by sah:

I think the debate surrounding whether GIS is a tool or a science may have been blown out of proportion in the field of GIS. In fact, I particularly agree with the idea put forth in GIS: Science or Tool? which suggests that GIS may exists along a continuum, from tool to toolmaker to science. Despite this suggestion, the way the author dwells on GIS as a computer application in this paper in my mind express both an underestimation of the power of GIS, as a tool or science, as well as mark on this paper as outdated, a product of its time (1997).

The authors quote Tomlinson, saying, “…Tomlinson was clear enough in his definition of a GIS as a computer application designed to perform certain specific functions…”. To me this implies that GIS is little more than a computer application—a fact repeated later in the article, when the authors say, “Many of those who argued on the ‘tool side’ of the issue could not see how a computer application could be described as a science”. I would argue however that GIS is spatial analysis that can be facilitated by Geographic Information Software. An example discussed in class involves community participatory mapping as a form of GIS, without using a computer, but still ultimately creating a functional product to analyze the space in which this community lives. And this can be made into data points to be input into a computer, if necessary.

So to put it briefly, whether GIS is a science or tool, we must realize today that we cannot underestimate it, for it continues only to evolve, as we can see from the ideological change over just 10+ years since this article was published.

Wright, Dawn J, Michael F. Goodchild, and James D. Proctor. “ForumGIS: Tool or Science?: Demystifying the Persistent Ambiguity of GIS As ‘Tool’ Versus ‘Science’”. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 87.2 (1997): 346-362. Print.

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